By Melissa Stoker, Save Madison Valley (syndicated from Madison Park Times)
This June, Velmeir Properties, developer of the City People’s site, hired an arborist to prepare a report on the trees that cover the eastern hillside where they want to build. The report, which is publicly available on the city of Seattle’s website, reads like a cursory response to one question:
“What will happen if we build a very big building here?”
Not surprisingly, the answer was (briefly), all the trees will die.
Save Madison Valley hired Steinbrueck Urban Strategies’ urban ecologist Matthew Patterson to assess the site and prepare a preliminary analysis (his report is available on the city’s website, as well as ours, www.savemadisonvalley.org).
Patterson’s analysis was significantly more in-depth as to what the hillside and trees provide: snags (a rarity in an urban forest), shade cover, nesting sites, flowers for pollinators, sequestering of carbon dioxide, and the absorption of thousands of gallons of rainwater annually.
In a valley like ours, which used to be a riverbed, intercepting and absorbing water (which concrete, for all its great qualities, does not do) is important.
Most significantly, however, Patterson also found trees that met or nearly met exceptional criteria and might constitute an exceptional <i>grove</i> of trees (important designations the city uses).
Patterson explained that the developer’s analysis had designated all the significant trees as “hazards” with the rationale that developing the property as planned would destroy their roots and kill them. The net result looks like an attempt to game the system by converting potentially exceptional trees, which would need to be protected or paid for, into things that need to be removed.
Patterson’s evaluation also looked at the developer’s proposal for replacing the trees once they are removed. The plan to “re-green” our site is woefully inadequate at best, flat out impossible at worst.
Because the full report is available to anyone interested, we won’t go into great detail here, but the plan includes, for example, trees in planters that can’t accommodate the root system of a tree. Trees on paper that in reality would remain shrubs.
We experienced a similar obfuscating of information around the calculation of the allowable height for the proposed building.
Seattle, a city of slopes and hills, has a number of ways to calculate allowable height, in order to respond best to the topography of any given site. Meng Strazzara, the architect on the project, didn’t disclose the method they used, didn’t provide a legible topographic map to check their calculations, ignored the city’s request for a legible copy, and declined our request for a legible copy.
Save Madison Valley eventually found the original surveyor, who graciously provided a clear, digital copy (which we submitted to the city and is also now on their website).
After some work, our consultant, Steinbrueck Urban Strategies’ architect Peter Steinbrueck ,was able to deduce the likely method used. The measurements appear to be taken from two “dog ear” corners in the higher flat area of the site up on Madison, excluding entirely the steep eastern slope that drops 30 feet.
This dubious approach, while it is advantageous to the developer, is highly questionable as it ignores (or, rather, works around) the unique topography of the site.
Last month we all read in this periodical the great news: the traffic report submitted by the developer asserts that over a thousand new vehicle will be added to Madison daily, but there will be no significant delays to traffic as a result. We will again be looking to check this data and see if it remains as rosy a picture after an independent professional takes a closer look.
As we look to grow and develop Madison Valley, as all of the city of Seattle is growing, we want to partner with people who are invested in the outcome of the changes we are undertaking — not just in getting things done, or making the maximum profit. We can have more people, more business, and retain what makes our city and our neighborhoods livable and vibrant. But we all need to work together and invest in the quality of that outcome.